New respiratory illness outbreak among children in China sparks questions from WHO – Here’s what to know

World News

The World Health Organization filed an official request with China seeking details about a spike in respiratory illnesses and clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia among children late Wednesday as the country enters its first winter season since pulling back on its stringent zero Covid policy.
Influenza Hit Children

Parents take their children to see a doctor at the pediatric emergency department of a hospital in Shanghai, China.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Key Takeaways
  • In a statement, the WHO said its request was prompted by a Chinese National Health Commission press conference from earlier this month, which “reported an increase in incidence of respiratory diseases” in the country.
  • The WHO also cited “reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China” from media outlets and the ProMED emerging disease database as a reason for its request.
  • Chinese officials have attributed this outbreak to known pathogens, including the influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the virus that causes Covid-19 and the bacteria mycoplasma pneumoniae, which affects younger children.
  • According to the Financial Times, the Chinese National Health Commission said Thursday it is paying attention to reports of overcrowding at hospitals, as it urged people with milder symptoms to visit general clinics.
  • The WHO said it has requested additional “epidemiologic and clinical information” about the outbreak, including lab results from the children’s pneumonia outbreak cluster.
Key Background

Chinese authorities have attributed the spike in illnesses to the lifting of China’s harsh zero-Covid measures earlier this year. This is the country’s first winter in three years without stringent monitoring and lockdown measures in place, which kept both Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases at bay. According to the New York Times, one Chinese health official said the low number of respiratory diseases in the past three years may make the 2023 winter spike look more dramatic by comparison. Chinese state media has also reported on the outbreak but has urged people to remain calm, saying most cases are mild.

Big Number

121,798. That is the number of Covid-19 deaths China has reported since the start of the pandemic, according to the WHO’s tracker.

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